Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Human Cyborg, Videojournalism, and laissez-faire

David in Tahrir Square February 2013

I'm often amazed at the number of videojournalism courses or documentary courses I come across, which attempt to neatly package these various media forms. 

Often they're littered with dogma, offering quick and easy solutions to a dialectic language that is anything but simple. When I helped set up the Press Association's videojournalism programme that would train legions of regional journalists from 2005 onwards, this was a primary concern.

There is a fundamental reason for the lies of a quick fix. It mirrors film making at its inception when the camera's scientific purpose, its ability to capture an image was paramount for Lumiere and co, and furthermore the commercialisation of the process trumped any aesthetic representation.

To make money from the process charlatans learned to deliver an intoxicating ikea- assembly formula, which appealed to its recipients.  After all how could they make a living.

This, however, obscured the wider point. Telling you how to do something as the only mode of comprehending film making obfuscates the discourse of this fantastical medium and its ability to invent language.

In essence teaching videojournalism, documentary or film making is not a formal process, but an artistic one. It resides in the power of thought, in the lecturers' ability to stimulate how you think and for the students rationale at refluxing those thoughts, returning them with interest.

Behind every great director of filmmaker you've ever known lies a student once who pursued the craft with an intense curiosity.

In Detachment (2011) Brody's character,  a supply teacher to problematic children sums it up when he says, If I give you the images, where is your power of thought.  He adds you need to be constantly assimilating knowledge.

Dampening our senses

That's problematised because we've entered the era of the cyborg, the human cyborg, not a computational being of prometheus power, but one which requires an ecology of byte-size command signs. Here, quick fixes, gibberish and physical tasks mimick heroine's quick hit as the norm.

The power of thought is reflexive and in generations to come, 140 words, a singular manipulated image, and a point-and-shoot camera will probably give room for nothing else. It's not your fault, that's technological progress of sorts.

But if those that teach negate to tell their charges the other world, the one which offers an alternative deep richness that require meditative attention, then we have wronged a society. Bordwell captured this as the implicit (hidden) meaning lauding Hitchcock as the master of thought-film.

In Cairo, while addressing the Arab league summit, this was my message. Film communicates to us in a way that the signification of verbal language cannot and vice versa. When the conversation tipped to the acquisition of knowledge, western knowledge, I was firm in pointing out that the answers to cinema journalism in Cairo rests in their own literature and the likes of Naguib Mahfouz.

David speaking at the Arab league Summit in Cairo

Meanwhile to talk of digital now as the new collapsible economy, blurring of boundaries, and multiple disciplines, wholly ignores the golden period of the early 90s which Tom Gunning refers to a Cinema of Attractions.

Cinema journalism, that I practice and teach, is itself a well worn path, but we can certainly tease out strands that have a specificity about them in the millennium. That's the power of thought.  And that power , as witnessed by Malick's "To the Wonder (2012)" can become so intricate that in the end  words, the signifiers, will not do.

In Malick's world we're invited to think within thought, a philosophical quest that pushes the language of film to its extreme, careering towards Sigmund Freud's  psychoanalysis. Confusing, perhaps, but it's the one thing we must nurture through debate, discourse and trial.

On I'm about to post a trailer from Tahrir, as a follow up, to Tahrir Memento. It features no dialogue, but as Dirk Bogarde would tell us, the camera's ability to portray thought.

It's the thing that we cannot afford to let go.

David Dunkley Gyimah is completing his PhD into the documentary making process. He has been a journalist and filmmaker since 1987 working for the BBC, Channel 4 News, ABC News and WTN. He is the recipient of the US Knight Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and an International Award winning videojournalist from the Berlin festival. lectures at the University of Westminster.